Rediscovering the faithful disciple Paul

  • June 13, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - Ever since the risen Christ asked “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” and the blinded young Pharisee answered “Who are you, Lord?” the church has had to deal with the difficult Saul of Tarsus, St. Paul the Apostle.

To mark 2,000 years since his birth in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), Pope Benedict XVI has designated June 28, 2008, to June 29, 2009, the Year of St. Paul.

“Today too, Christ needs apostles willing to sacrifice themselves for the Gospel,” said Benedict.

In Toronto the church will commemorate the year with special prayers, a booklet outlining St. Paul’s life and vision, a web site featuring resources on St. Paul ( and a specially commissioned icon of St. Paul which will tour at least 78 parishes in the archdiocese. Archbishop Thomas Collins inaugurates the holy year with Mass at St. Paul’s Basilica 7:30 p.m., June 28.

At the opening Mass representatives from each of the parishes will receive a terra-cotta oil lamp — a reminder of how the early church gathered in the catacombs — and a booklet on St. Paul published by the archdiocese and the Daughters of St. Paul.

Icon on tour

TORONTO - The icon of St. Paul painted by Benedictine Sister Marie-Paul in Jerusalem specifically for Toronto will tour 78 of the archdiocese’s 224 parishes during the Pauline Year. The tour begins in Toronto’s original cathedral and oldest Catholic church, St. Paul’s Basilica, and ends at St. Michael’s Cathedral.

  • St. Paul’s Basilica, Toronto, June 28-July 2
  • Our Lady of Grace, Angus, July 2-7
  • St. Paul the Apostle, Alliston, July 7-17
  • Martyrs’ Shrine, Midland, July 17-24
  • St. James, Colgan, July 24-28
  • St. Andrew’s, Brechin, July 28-31
  • St. Margaret’s, Midland, July 31-Aug. 5
  • St. John Vianney, Barrie, Aug. 5-11
  • St. Ann’s, Penetanguishene, Aug. 11-18
  • Holy Martyrs of Japan, Bradford, Aug. 8-21
  • Guardian Angels, Orillia, Aug. 21-Aug 25
  • St. Patrick’s, Phelpston, and Our Lady of Lourdes, Elmvale, Aug. 25-28
  • St. Mary’s, Collingwood, Aug. 28-Sept. 2
  • St. Gertrude’s, Oshawa, Sept. 2-4
  • St. Mary of the People, Oshawa, Sept. 8-11
  • Immaculate Conception, Port Perry, Sept. 11-15
  • Holy Redeemer, Pickering, Sept. 15-18
  • St. Bernadette, Ajax, Sept. 18-22
  • St. Isaac Jogues, Pickering, Sept. 22-25
  • St. Rose of Lima, Toronto, Sept. 25-29
  • St. Joseph, Toronto, Sept. 29-Oct. 2
  • Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Toronto, Oct. 2-6
  • St. Augustine’s Seminary, Toronto, Oct. 6-Oct. 9
  • St. Aidan, Toronto, Oct. 9-14
  • Prince of Peace, Toronto, Oct. 14-16
  • Canadian Martyrs, Toronto, Oct. 16-20
  • St. Joseph’s and Our Lady of Good Health, Toronto, Oct. 20-23
  • St. Dunstan, Toronto, Oct. 23-27
  • Corpus Christi, Toronto, Oct. 27-30
  • St. Edith Stein, Toronto, Oct. 30-Nov. 3
  • St. Jane Francis, Toronto, Nov. 3-6
  • Blessed Trinity, Toronto, Nov. 6-10
  • Blessed John XXIII, Toronto, Nov. 10-13
  • St. Timothy, Toronto, Nov. 13-17
  • Blessed Sacrament, Toronto, Nov. 20-24
  • Our Lady of the Assumption, Toronto, Nov. 24-27
  • St. Mary of the Angels, Toronto, Nov. 27-Dec. 1
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe, Toronto, Dec. 1-4
  • St. Alphonsus, Toronto, Dec. 4-8
  • St. John Bosco and St. Matthew, Toronto, Dec. 8-11
  • St. Clare, Toronto, Dec. 11-15
  • Nativity of Our Lord, Toronto, Dec. 18-22
  • Transfiguration of Our Lord, Toronto, Dec. 29-Jan. 2, 2009
  • Sacred Heart of Jesus, Toronto, Jan. 2-5
  • St. Benedict, Toronto, Jan. 5-8
  • All Saints, Toronto, Jan. 8-12
  • Holy Angels, Toronto, Jan. 12-15
  • Our Lady of Sorrows, Toronto, Jan. 15-19
  • St. Wilfrid’s, Toronto, Jan. 22-26
  • St. Fidelis, Toronto, Jan. 29-Feb. 2
  • York University Chaplaincy, Toronto, Feb. 2-5
  • St. Jude’s, Toronto, Feb. 5-9
  • St. Margaret Mary, Woodbridge, Feb. 9-12
  • St. Clare of Assisi, Woodbridge, Feb. 12-16
  • St. Agnes Kouying Tsao, Markham, Feb. 16-19
  • St. Joseph the Worker, Thornhill, Feb. 19-23
  • St. Thomas the Apostle, Markham, Feb. 23-26
  • St. Mark’s, Stouffville, Feb. 26-March 2
  • St. Elizabeth Seton, Newmarket, March 2-5
  • St. Marguerite d’Youville, Brampton, March 5-9
  • St. Timothy, Orangeville, March 9-12
  • St. Jerome, Brampton, March 12-16
  • St. Anne and St. Mary, Brampton,March 16-19
  • Our Lady of Fatima, Brampton, March 19-23
  • St. Leonard, Brampton, March 23-26
  • St. Francis Xavier, Mississauga, March 26-30
  • Christ the King and Merciful Redeemer,Mississauga, March 30-April 2
  • St. Peter and St. Paul, Mississauga,April 2-13
  • St. Francis of Assisi, Mississauga, April 13-16
  • St. Joseph, Mississauga, April 16-20
  • Saviour of the World, Mississauga, April 20-23
  • St. Helen’s, Toronto, April 23-27
  • St. Mary’s, Toronto, April 27-30
  • St. Sebastian, Toronto, April 30-May 4
  • St. Cecilia, Toronto, May 21-May 25
  • Newman Centre, Toronto, June 4-8
  • St. Michael’s Cathedral, June 25-29

Getting back to Paul means getting back to the experience that galvanized Christians and formed Christianity, said Rev. Gregory Bloomquist, professor of New Testament at Saint Paul University in Ottawa.

“Paul really shapes our understanding of the Risen Christ, the people of Christ, and all of the events that follow,” said Bloomquist.

Everything Paul does and says is grounded in an overwhelming and mystical experience of the Risen Christ — an experience which Paul claims recreates the world.

Paul’s writings from about 50 until his death somewhere between 64 and 67 are the oldest writings in the New Testament. They formed the core of the first Christian canon of sacred writings put together by Marcion in the second century, and have been key to Christian Bibles ever since. Though it has been the institutional church which has preserved and read Paul for two millennia, Paul has always been a challenge to elements in the church which seek power, prestige and status in the world, according to Bloomquist.

“Paul isn’t interested in being a visible anything in this world. Paul is interested in new creation,” said the Anglican scholar. “He is the one who said anyone who is in Christ is a new Creation. What Paul was pushing the church to be was to be something radically at variance with the world he found.”

It isn’t really surprising that scholars have often theorized that Paul is the inventor of Christianity, because his vision seems so new, said St. Augustine’s Seminary New Testament professor Fr. Walter Werbylo.

“Paul really is just a faithful disciple. He’s being faithful to what Jesus Himself established,” Werbylo said.

But he can still seem new 2,000 years on. Jewish scholars have rediscovered Paul as an important thinker about Jewish identity ever since Daniel Boyarin’s 1997 book A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity. Post-modern philosophers in Eastern Europe have recently rediscovered Paul, according to Leif Vaage, a New Testament professor at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto.

“They seem to find in Paul a very interesting voice from the past with whom to think about the full range of problems that append post-modern existence,” Vaage said.

If we miss that radical newness in Paul’s letters, it is probably because we haven’t learned to read the letters in their original context, said Colleen Shantz, a New Testament scholar at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College.

“One misstep we make is to read him mostly as a theologian, as a systematician, as someone who articulated ideas,” said Shantz. “And of course he did that. He does that especially in Romans. But Romans has come to dominate how we read all the other letters. I think Paul might more happily understand himself as a pastor rather than a systematic theologian.”

Reading Paul’s letters whole, from beginning to end, is one part of discovering Paul the pastor, but another key is understanding the kind of society Paul lived in. It was a society that associated strength and imperial power with divinity and associated weakness with shame.

“The notion that divinity would be expressed through weakness is so contrary to cultural expectation that Paul really has a difficult message to communicate,” said Shantz.

When Paul writes about treasure in clay jars and boasting of weakness, nothing could be further from the imperial theology of the Greco-Roman emperor cult and the whole system of cultural values which kept the ancient world running.

“In our own time, economic power is the place that we really need to look at. It has hegemonic power over the weak, and we participate in that regularly,” Shantz said.

It’s hard to ignore that understanding Paul has been at the heart of some of the most divisive debates in the church, most notably the 16th century Reformation which split Luther from Rome over what Paul meant by “justification.” But if we could learn to read Paul more deeply, we might discover someone who teaches the church today how to disagree and remain together in the body of Christ, said Vaage.

“If you could read the Pauline letters as he himself presents them, as the confessions of a weak man, not the man in charge of everything, of somebody who knows himself not to be obviously the teacher but nevertheless having something to teach — that is, I think, a pretty good way to participate in church debate,” Vaage said.

So if we pray with Paul, listen carefully, what will we learn?

“I do think that if people do understand Paul over this year, then the church next year will not look like the church this year,” said Bloomquist.

“What Paul was about was not comfortable in his day and I’m not convinced it’s comfortable in our day.”


{mosimage}The hard life of St. Paul

Written byt Catholic Register Staff

St. Paul lived a hard life. Most scholars believe Paul wasn’t a very successful evangelist during his life time, and that by the end of his letter to the Romans, when he speaks of going to edge of the civilized world in Spain, Paul is worried that his years of mission had all been in vain.

“His own letters bear witness to the ship-wreckings, the beatings, the loneliness, the fear, the anxiety, the concern that he had,” said Fr. Robert Mignella, co-ordinator of the archdiocese of Toronto’s Year of St. Paul committee. “I think that makes him very human. Not discouraged, he suffered for the Gospel.”

Here’s an outline of his life:

  • Born in Tarsus, southern Turkey, between 7 and 10.

  • Though he is described in Acts as having studied under Gamaliel, one of the great founders of the rabbinical movement in Judaism, Paul himself says he was unknown in Jerusalem before he visited as an adult.

  • Paul describes himself as a Pharisee, and practised his trade as a tent maker during his travels.

  • The first reference to Paul in the New Testament is as witness and instigator of the stoning of Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr, in 34. Paul describes himself as a persecutor of the church, and Act records that Christian communities were afraid of him.

  • Following the martyrdom of Stephen, Paul was blinded by light on the road to Damascus and had an immediate experience of the Risen Christ. He was cured of his blindness by a Christian disciple named Ananias, who then baptized him.

  • Paul left Damascus for Arabia some time after his conversion.

  • Returning to Damascus Paul ran into his first opposition while preaching in synagogues. He escaped Damascus by being let down over the city wall in a basket.

  • He travelled to Jerusalem and met James, the brother of Jesus.

  • Stirring up controversy among Hellenists — Greek-speaking Jews and gentiles who respected Jewish religion — got Paul sent back to Tarsus.

  • Fourteen years after his conversion, Paul returned to Jerusalem, and then travelled with his old friend Barnabas to Antioch.

  • Famine in Judea (southern Israel) in 45-46 brought Paul, Barnabas and Titus back to Jerusalem to deliver financial support from Antioch to the Christians of Jerusalem.

  • Paul’s first missionary journey begins about 47, along with a general movement of Jewish Christians fleeing Jerusalem. Paul, then known as Saul, travels with Barnabas to Cyprus. Preaching primarily to gentiles, he changes his name from Saul to Paul, a more standard sounding name in Greek, and continues preaching through western Turkey. He and Barnabas are mistaken for Zeus and Hermes in Lystra. An enraged Jewish community from Antioch and Iconium stones Paul, but he survives and flees to Derbe to preach. The mission ends in Antioch, the city where followers of Jesus were first called Christians.

  • At a meeting of Apostles in Jerusalem around 50, later designated the first council of the church (Vatican II, 1962-1966, is the latest) Paul, Peter and James argued against circumcision for gentile Christians, urging that converts only need follow minimum requirements to live an ethical life and avoid the ritual sacrifices of other religions. Despite the agreement in Jerusalem, Paul later falls out with Peter over Peter’s refusal to share a meal with gentile Christians in Antioch.

  • Following the confrontation with Peter in Antioch, Paul leaves on a second missionary journey (between 49 and 52) with Silas and Timothy, and without Barnabas. In Macedonia, at Philippi, Paul baptizes Lydia of Thyatira, a wealthy woman, and her household. He is then badly beaten by local authorities and leaves for Thessalonica. In Athens, Paul gives his speech in the Areopagus which is met with derision.

  • In Corinth in 52 or 53 Paul is arrested and brought before the Roman proconsul Gallio charged with persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to the law. Gallio judges this an internal religious dispute.

  • Paul’s third missionary journey (between 53 and 58) takes him through Macedonia and Asia Minor (Turkey) to Antioch. In Ephesus his preaching against idols threatens the livelihood of silversmiths and causes a riot. The mob tries to kill Paul.

  • In Jerusalem for Pentecost, Paul is accused of teaching Jews to abandon the Mosaic law. To disprove this he and James and elders of the church in Jerusalem perform a purification ritual according to Jewish custom.

  • Accused of bringing a gentile into the temple in Jerusalem, Paul is saved from death by Roman soldiers who arrest him, tie him to a post and whip him, then throw him in prison. After being transferred from the prison in Jerusalem to prison in Caesarea, Paul claims his right as a Roman citizen to be tried in Rome.

  • On the way to Rome he was shipwrecked on Malta, and preached to people on the island.

  • In Rome he was kept effectively under house arrest.

  • It is not entirely clear whether Paul was martyred in Rome or actually did make it to Spain as he had hoped. A fourth century account says he was beheaded under the reign of Nero in Rome, between 64 and 67.

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